The power of guilt is something that can overtake an entire life and crush it with the strength of an oncoming avalanche. I saw this firsthand at a women’s retreat I attended many years ago. A participant sought me out after a very emotional worship experience where people were invited to give over their guilt, sins, burdens, and shame in an act of “dying moments.” The invitation was to process those life-long secrets and figuratively place them at the foot of the cross and “die to them” by letting them go.
This particular woman had about twenty years worth of crushing heaviness to lift up. She told me her story in gasps and sobs as we sat under a piano until 3 a.m. It included drug and alcohol abuse, criminal activity, adultery, an abortion she had never told anyone about, and the eventual loss of her marriage and children. It all came spilling out that night. She was dead inside.
Ephesians 2 (Common English Bible)
2 At one time you were like a dead person because of the things you did wrong and your offenses against God. 2 You used to live like people of this world. You followed the rule of a destructive spiritual power. This is the spirit of disobedience to God’s will that is now at work in persons whose lives are characterized by disobedience. 3 At one time you were like those persons. All of you used to do whatever felt good and whatever you thought you wanted so that you were children headed for punishment just like everyone else.
This is exactly where this woman was in her journey. She had lived a life of disobedience to God’s will. She spent her life doing things that “felt good” and subsequently lost her life to those things.
4-5 However, God is rich in mercy. He brought us to life with Christ while we were dead as a result of those things that we did wrong. He did this because of the great love that he has for us. You are saved by God’s grace! 6 And God raised us up and seated us in the heavens with Christ Jesus. 7 God did this to show future generations the greatness of his grace by the goodness that God has shown us in Christ Jesus.
And so here she was sitting with a strange pastor in the middle of the night and it all came out. Her greatest struggle was believing that with all that she had done, God would still be able to forgive her. She kept saying that her behavior was unforgivable. She was unredeemable. She was “unworthy.”
8 You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed. 9 It’s not something you did that you can be proud of. 10 Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives.
When she had finally exhausted herself, I calmly asked her if she thought that she was stronger or greater than Jesus. The question took her aback and she said no, of course not. I went on to explain that there is no sin greater than his activity on the cross and so it takes a certain kind of arrogance to think that OUR sin is the one so great and unforgivable that his death couldn’t obliterate it forever. To Jesus, she IS that worthy.
Otherwise the cross is a joke.
The next day, this woman woke up and knew for the first time in her life that she was forgiven, redeemed, and freed of her sins. She was a brand new creation in Christ. Hallelujah!
We are God’s accomplishment. Salvation is not something we possess on our own. It’s not something we did and now we can be proud of ourselves. And the opposite is true: there is nothing we’ve done that is so bad it can’t be forgiven. That’s the power of love.
You were created in Christ Jesus to do good things. Receive his forgiveness and go forth in your new life.